Dallas — Dallas Theater Center Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty adopts the Public Works program from the Public Theater in New York, but he does it Texas style: The Tempest with a cast of two hundred. Gathered with the help of community partners across Dallas this intrepid cast of performers reminds us of the true origin of the word amateur: lover. Though there are some familiar Dallas Theater Center professionals sprinkled in key roles, it’s the folks in it for the “love of the game” that make this the “you had to be there” theatrical event of the year.
The original concept for the whole affair belongs to Lear deBessonet who directed Todd Almond’s musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s magical island adventure in New York with a similarly blended cast. In Dallas’ case, SMU Meadows School of the Arts and Dallas Theater Center worked with community partners Bachman Lake Together, City of Dallas Park & Recreation Department, Jubilee Park & Community Center, Literacy Instruction for Texas and Vickery Meadow Learning Center. They reached out, held acting classes and brought fresh blood to the arts district. The result is an ensemble of every shape and size, age and ethnicity, accent and ability. The payoff is when Miranda says, “How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people in’t!”
If theater was a game, Kevin Moriarty just won.
There are a lot of other reasons why the show works. Foremost is the durable musical adaptation by Todd Almond that boils down Shakespeare’s island castaway tale into easily digestible choral anthems. The charming Liz Mikel as Ariel and the spellbinding André De Shields as Prospero take Shakespeare to church. Themes that would usually take several scenes to emerge are here elevated on the altar under the careful musical direction of Vonda K. Bowling to be danced and sung for the betterment of all.
Costume designer Jennifer Ables makes a brilliant choice to break up the bodies with layers and textures but unify the groups with color, for instance aqua for the sea and earth tones for the, well, earth. Imagine a throng of 30, aged nine to 90, swathed in blue-green waving their arms as they surround the group who are on the ship. With simple choreography from Ann Yee and a little lighting support from Alan C. Edwards, you’ve got yourself a storm and a shipwreck. Less magical is Russell Parkman’s giant, floating leaves set in front of a color-changing backdrop. The wicker proscenium arch and Gilligan’s Island furniture seem more appropriate to a theme park than a grand theatrical experiment.
Not that everything has to make sense to make magic. When Ariel wants to amaze some of the castaways, her spell includes an interlude from the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklórico dancers. The colors of the twirling dresses are kaleidoscopic. To top that, the Mitotiliztli Yaoyollohtli Aztec Dancers come out with drums, incense and headdresses with feathers at least six feet long. It’s an overwhelming feast for the eyes. For the ears, it’s the Big “D” Band Drumline from the Townview High Marching Band. For the heart, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance Company interprets the inner feelings of Miranda (Trinity Hawkins) and Ferdinand (Carlos Ramirez). Not that their romance wasn’t palpable enough. The dancers just take it to another level. That’s the not-secret of the evening: more is more. For instance, who will officiate at the wedding of the young lovers? At our performance, it was the Mayor of Dallas, Mike Rawlings, followed by an enormous dance party. This is classic Moriarty.
And then, suddenly, it isn’t.
Prospero interrupts his own revels with the forgotten subplot of his revenge. This shift in tone is rarely as well handled as it is here. André De Shields carves a clear arc through to the end of the play as he wrestles with what to do with the court quartet of the blameless Gonzalo (Gordon Fox), Alonsa (Igenell Moten), Sebastia (Felisha Blanton) and worst of all, the brother who usurped him, Antonio (Ruben Reza). Though this grouping is made up mostly of amateurs, they get some of the biggest audience reactions.
Lest the power of the professionals be overlooked, Alex Organ swings for the stands with his Caliban. Bedecked with horns, black-toothed and covered in lesions, he somehow manages to garner sympathy and a fair amount of laughter. Of course, some of that credit goes to Ace Anderson’s incredulous Trinculo and Rodney Garza’s staggering Stephano. This trio is Shakespeare’s subplot to his own subplot. He just exaggerates the same human faults and failings exhibited in the conniving court to ludicrous and laughable extremes.
The resolution of the whole fantasy belongs to Prospero, who forgives his offenders and frees his servants.
An impetuous ruler giving up power, learning compassion and restraint?